Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Matthew Pitt

by Annie Bilancini Read the Story December 14, 2015

How did this story take shape? This story is so strange, but so sweet. I’m so curious about its origins. 

When we describe parenting, it seems there’s a focus placed on referencing the drudgery of the job, the quotidian aspects—endless diapers, endless feedings, endless exhaustion—as if that’s all the role and journey is comprised of. If it’s not that, it’s vague mysticism. So I think I was thinking about the Homeric within the quotidian in the story: the epic quests and lengths parents will go to, and the trials they will endure, to procure one wanted item for their child, or solve one seemingly minor problem.

I love that a piece with Homeric goals ended up being a flash piece. Did you venture out intending to keep this piece so compressed, even down to the shape of the prose on the page? 

I did aim to keep it compressed, and a work of flash fiction, although I in no way imagined it would wind up in the 500-word range. The prose took its shape after the initial bursts and drafting: very much a “form follows function” experience.

Well, and getting the perfect haircut sometimes feels like composing that perfect little story. It’s nearly chimerical. You can envision what you want, but the proper execution depends on choosing that very perfect word, the perfect cut. Which begs the question: how does the wig factor into this metaphor? Or better yet, how did this story arrive upon the wig as the solution to the unique problem set upon this narrator? 

I like the way you frame that, the story arriving “upon the wig as the solution.” In writing this, I was drawing from one of my daughters, who liked to fall asleep stroking my arm hair. Later she turned to stuffed animals (which made my forearms feel slightly jilted, let me tell you!). But it got me thinking how we’re perpetually sleeping with something or someone, from the start, whether it’s a parent’s cradling reassurance, a stuffed animal, friends at a sleepover party, and finally, a partner or spouse, which brings on, in many cases, a child that sleeps with you and said spouse/partner. The Homeric arc of cyclical intimacy. But forearm hair didn’t feel as…elegant as the hair on a crown. Plus, the hair on a crown can be adjusted and sheared until it achieves, as you say, the perfect cut. It may not surprise you to learn that I’m obsessed with the Brady Udall flash fiction story “The Wig,” which is just rife with emotional masterstrokes.

That really is a fabulous story! Are there any other flash pieces that serve as touchstones for your work?

Maybe not any specific pieces, but I’m continually astounded by what Stuart Dybek achieves with the form, and highly recommend his new book, Ecstatic Cahoots.

Okay, final question: What is your favorite wig in history, real or otherwise?

Such a great question! And it allows me to bring up my mini-obsession with Alexander Hamilton. I should say that “obsession” is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but only slightly: I’ve written a book about Hamilton (under a nom de plume), and worked very hard to get a B plot featuring our forgotten footnote founding father in a TV sitcom episode. So his wig wins.

About the Author:

Matthew Pitt's first short story collection, Attention Please Now, won the Autumn House Fiction Prize and later received Late Night Library’s Debut-litzer Prize and was a finalist for the Writers League of Texas Book Award. His recent fiction appears or is forthcoming in BOMB, Epoch, Michigan Quarterly Review, Conjunctions, and Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet (Press 53). More than 30 other stories have been published in such forums as Best New American Voices, Cincinnati Review, Oxford American, and The Southern Review. His work has won awards from the New York Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, and has been short-listed in several end-of-year anthologies. He is a faculty member at the Taos Writers Conference and an assistant professor of English at Texas Christian University, where he was the department Teacher of the Year for 2013-14.

About the Interviewer:

Annie Bilancini writes and teaches in Cleveland, Ohio. Her work has appeared mostly recently in journals such as The Collagist, Booth, and SmokeLong Quarterly. She helps co-edit the hybrid prose journal Threadcount, and was an associate editor for content at SmokeLong Quarterly.

About the Artist:

Claire Ibarra is a writer, poet, and photographer. Her photographs have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Roadside Fiction, Alimentum--The Literature of Food, Foliate Oak, Lime Hawk, and Blue Fifth Review. She was an artist in residence for Counterexample Poetics and art editor for Gulf Stream Magazine. Claire’s work was included in the “Finding the Light” Exhibition at the PhotoPlace Gallery.